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Ireland has produced many famous females who have made their mark in culture, politics and the arts. Many become household names, some are remembered and forgotten simultaneously, and others fall into obscurity. Jennie Hodgers could be placed in the third category, mainly because she is rarely referred to by that name.
Born on Christmas Day 1843 in Clogherhead, Co. Louth to Sallie and Patrick Hodgers, Jennie left her native land as a stowaway dressed in men’s clothes at the age of 18, her sights set on the United States. Ending up in the Illinois, she arrived as the Civil War began.
Jennie Hodgers a.k.a Albert Cashier
Of course, in those days, women could not join the armed forces, but Jennie who had travelled to America, felt differently. Changing her name to Albert D.J. Cashier, she joined the Union Army on August 6th, 1862, enlisting into the 95th Illinois Infantry. Stood at a mere 5’3” and not particularly sociable with the other soldiers, one would wonder how she was never spotted in amongst the pack. Yet somehow, suspicions were not aroused. Nobody ever questioned or uncovered the true identity of the small and quiet soldier.
Her regiment fought in over 40 battles, including the Siege at Vicksburg and the Battle of Guntown, Mississippi where they suffered heavy losses. In the heat of each battle, Jennie proved her mettle. While on a reconnaissance mission in Vicksburg, she was captured by a Confederate soldier. Jennie managed to grab her captors rifle and knock him unconscious with it before running away.
Shortly thereafter, at another skirmish, Jennie witnessed as her company’s flag was tore down by the enemy. She took it upon herself to retrieve the flag, before then climbing a tree, under heavy fire where she hung it from a high branch. Throughout the war she displayed great bravery and miraculously managed to avoid any serious injury, a fact which helped her to maintain her identity.
On August 17, 1865, Jennie was mustered out of the army and she returned to Illinois where she lived for over 40 years in the town of Saunemin. Because she was still living as a man called Albert Cashier, she was able to claim a veterans pension. Jennie didn’t just live off her army pension, however, she supported herself further by taking various extra jobs, including a lamplighter, janitor and a dry goods clerk.
Jennie was proud of her war record and every year on Memorial Day she put on her uniform and joined in the local parade with other veterans, continuing to do so until 1910.
A Lasting Injury
She had been working on the local estate of Senator J.M. Lish, picking up sticks from his driveway when he hit her with his car. This accident resulted in Jennie being left with a broken leg. Taken to her local hospital, it was upon being examined that a doctor discovered her real identity, although out of respect for a veteran, he kept it a secret.
The broken leg had left Jennie with a bad limp and she decided it best to retire to the Soldier andSailors Home in Quincy, Illinois. She still maintained her disguise, but over a two year period she developed dementia and was moved to Watertown State Hospital for the Insane, where it was discovered that the old soldier was in fact a woman.
On March 29th, 1914, The Washington Post reported on the woman who passed as a man in the army. It went on to state the sad fact Jennie was committed to an insane asylum, but reported how she had reported in some of the bloodiest battles of the war and behaved with gallantry.”
Honouring her Audacity
At the asylum, Jennie was forced to wear women’s clothes, something she had not done in over 50 years. Finding it hard to wear long dresses, one day she tripped over the garment and broke her hip. While recuperating from this accident, she had also come under investigation from the Pension Bureau. This arm of the government had decided to revoke Jennie’s pension, but with the aid of former comrades who claimed she had fought as tough as any man in the battlefield and was deserving of the pension, the government body backed down and let Jennie keep her well earned pension.
On October 11th, 1915, Jennie died at the age of 72. She was buried in her Infantry uniform with full military honours in Sunny Slope Cemetery in Saunemin. In the aftermath of her death, an article appeared in the Anglo-Celt newspaper of November 6th 1915 looking for heirs of Jennie to claim money she had left behind, but none were found.
In 1977, the people of Saunemin replaced the standard military marker on Jennie’s grave with a much bigger one bearing the following inscription:
Albert D.J. Cashier
Co. G, 95th Inf. Civil War
Born: Jennie Hodgers
In Colgher Head Ireland